Gender-Neutral Pronouns: The Singular ‘They’ and Alternatives

The most natural coinages would be those that form a set with “she” and “he” such as “que” (“kwee”), “re” and “xe.” Could anything be closer to the heart of the L.G.B.T.Q. community than the first of those? And this is just a starter in the brainstorming exercise. The nonbinary community may pick it up from here.

Simon Marcus
Oakland, Calif.

To the Editor:

I agree with John McWhorter that languages are “meant to evolve”; indeed, that is one of the sources of their endless fascination. But the introduction of “they” and “them” to replace gender-specific pronouns in English is both clumsy and unnecessarily disruptive. It also reveals a lack of imagination.

The replacement of Miss and Mrs. by Ms., which Mr. McWhorter notes, was elegant and efficient; using “they” and “them” as both singular and plural is simply obfuscatory. Verb-subject agreement is not a form of gender entrapment — it’s a thing of beauty. Let us hope that those who wish to neutralize gender will come up with something that simultaneously enriches our language.

Sonya Michel
Silver Spring, Md.
The writer is professor emerita of history, American studies and women’s studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

To the Editor:

To John McWhorter’s call for acceptance of evolving, gender-neutral language, I offer these neologisms: s/he (she-he), which works in print but pronounced “shy,” herm (her-him), and herm’s (possessive). They are not a great departure from what is.

Richard Rosenthal
New York

To the Editor:

Kudos to John McWhorter, whose cogent “lesson” on linguistic evolution, while condensed, is accessible and clear.

Even the most socially liberal can find it exhausting to keep abreast of changing standards in appropriate and/or acceptable words and behaviors. Mr. McWhorter’s explanation of the singular use of “they,” which at first blush seems incomprehensible, provides welcome relief for those who, as he concedes, are weary.

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